Okay, this one reads a whole lot like it’s just a chapter in a larger collection of personal essays and anecdotes, because that’s how I see it. I suppose it is one of my ambitions to finish such a collection one day. And every journey must start with one step, or one chapter, like this one.
I had turned 13 the summer my family went on their first vacation trip outside of Sweden. Previously our vacations had, for monetary reasons been limited to shorter trips within the country, or just weeks spent out on the family property out in the archipelago. But recently, our family finances had improved after my father had changed his career to the growing field of computer programming and with some help from my grandmother the tickets and hotel had been booked and paid for. Today it’s common to see children barely weaned going off on charter trips, but to me this would be a completely new experience. I was 13 years old and I was getting on an airplane for the first time in my life.
I had absolutely no experience with this sort of travel and found myself relying heavily on my mother’s advice and suggestions, without ever questioning her judgment. She told me what to pack and how to pack; lending me a nice outfit to wear on the plane, a navy blue skirt and jacket that went over a nice blouse. If I was still feeling anxious about this brand new experience, I suppose I should have considered my younger brothers, just 9 years old, who packed up all of their stuffed animals in their two carry-on bags.
Of the flight down to the island of Majorca, or Mallorca, which was our destination, I don’t remember much, after the first frightening thrill of being up in the air had subsided. I had my first in flight meal and then it was just a matter or amusing myself until we finally landed. No, enduring the flight itself was not all that terrible, what sticks in my mind is the long transfer from the airport to the northern coastal vacation resort where we would be staying. It felt longer then the plane ride itself, simply because by the time we got off the plane and collected our luggage I was exhausted and ready to start having all that fun I’d been promised. And on top of that, back then I got carsick, really badly. So, the hours, or that’s how long it felt, on the bus was a living nightmare, staring out the window at the growing twilight outside, obscuring the alien landscape, praying I wouldn’t throw up.
When we finally got off the bus, the next inconvenience reared its head. My travel attire was ill suited for the warm Mediterranean weather and I was extremely hot, while my brothers danced around me in their shorts and t-shirts, as overexcited as two 9-year-olds up past their bedtime can be. It all felt a little better once we got to our little hotel room/apartment, on the bottom floor with our very own lime tree growing just outside the balcony.
My parents got the big bedroom, my brothers got the small room with the bunk beds, allowing them to stuff their plush toys in the closet and I got the pull out bed in the combined kitchenette/living room. It might not have been luxurious, but it was still a brand new experience in a brand new country.
From the get go it was apparent my parents had wanted a fair amount of alone time during this trip, as both me and my brothers had been signed up for these clubs the resort had, geared towards entertaining the children and teenagers of different ages, while their parents had a proper vacation. My brothers accepted this without complaint, though at their age they were still in the mindset that their parents could do no wrong, and thus they would go off to these activities with other children, some of which spoke a different language (these clubs catered to people from all the Nordic countries). I however, was now officially a teenager, with the fussy mentality of the age; though in hindsight I wonder if it was not more than that.
The first days of the club I attended with no complaint, playing mini-golf and eating ice cream with other teenagers. Once I even followed one of the girls my own age home to her hotel room/apartment afterwards, while my parents took day trips on their own to explore the surrounding villages, though time has turned that girl and her name into a soft blur in my memory. But then it was announced that all the clubs were to put on a show for the parents and my club was to perform the musical Grease as our little project. I went as far as showing up for the first meeting, dressed in appropriate attire, but then something in my brain just switched off. I don’t know what exactly made me object so fiercely to being there, perhaps it was that now I truly had to engage fully and talk with the entire group, instead of keeping a bit too myself. Either way I, feeling more than a little anxious and nearly hysterical, refused to stay and my mother, who was there with me, had no choice but to let me leave. In hindsight I feel bad for the money they obviously must have spent to put me in that club and here I had only attended on just a few occasions.
After that my parents had to accept that I would be around during the day, surely restricting their own plans. Not that I noticed. I was merely happy to be away from that distressing group of people, allowed the time to read my books and entertain my own fantasies. I wonder now what went on behind the closed door of my parents’ bedroom, knowing what I know today of my father’s need to stick to a planned routine, a routine I must have surely upset by skipping out on my day activity (perhaps that short bout of stomach poisoning, which put me to bed for an entire evening was some form of punishment). What I know is that at the end of the week spent in the warm sun of that island my father shaved off his mustache, a feature he’d sported for my entire life. Its disappearance I recall as something pretty distressing, suddenly there was a different man there, calling himself my father. It took me quite some time to get used to the new, bare face.
To be honest, I do not know exactly how much I actually upset of my parents own plan for that vacation trip. Even with the club activities for my brothers there were still days when the entire family drove off in a rental car to explore the island, surely a planned activity, visiting some impressive limestone caves, a rather sad zoo and a village with a famous little chapel up on a hill (I still vividly recall how I refused to be caught on film inside the chapel when my dad took out the video camera, from a strange, almost logical respect for that religious location). Yet now I find myself recalling the alarming experience when there was a small collision between our rental and the car belonging to a local family and my dad ended up in a heated discussion, where no one seemed to understand the other. My father has always been easy to anger, especially when he’s got stuff on his mind. Luckily what damage the cars sustained was covered by our holiday insurance.
Looking back on that trip now I can now see things that I would not have noticed back then, the slight tension behind the scenes. The trip was not a failure by any means, the bad experiences are drowned out by the more pleasant ones, but you do notice things. I look at my own behavior when faced with new and stressful situations, like how I dropped out of that club and wonder if that should not have been something worth noticing. And if my own behavior upset my father’s plans to the extent that it drove him to alter his appearance by ridding himself of his mustache, as a way to cope.
That first trip overseas has become more than just a memory of a vacation 20 years ago, it is also another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is my life and who I am as a person. A puzzle that is not yet complete.
Perhaps one day I will find those final missing pieces I need. And perhaps those will help me understand the rest of my family better.